Entrepreneurs assemble!


David Millar

David Millar

Technology Accelerator Director

I am four weeks into working from home and currently halfway through self-isolation after my four-year-old son developed a bad fever – there is no doubt the reality of the situation the world finds itself in is hitting home. However, this time has given me space to reflect, learn and respond both personally and professionally. I’m pleased to say we are all ok and we are enjoying spending more time together as a family, as well as juggling the not so business as usual working arrangements. I’m certainly grateful to have a load of gym equipment at home and a long list of DIY and gardening needing addressed!

As I’ve reflected on the situation we are in, I have found myself fascinated by the varying responses we are seeing from people as they seek to get prepared for the unknown. I’ve always had a fascination with psychology and behaviour and I have enjoyed reading the various theories behind why some choose to literally run for the hills while others channel their inner Doomsday-er and buy up a year’s supply of loo roll in the space of a day. There will certainly be a small proportion of people out there with very clean derrieres!

Most of the time, people are rational beings but in the time of crisis and stress, behaviour patterns change – sometimes drastically – we see this playing out on prime-time news like some sort of mass social experiment. I do find it disappointing that at a time we all need to be more caring and behave like citizens. The human response at times can be selfish. The images of older generations or care workers struggling to find vital supplies in supermarkets is one I find harrowing. Even in the 21st century with all our technological advances, the weakest link in the chain is us – humans.

However, in these times of adversity and crisis, we see some special people emerge that act selflessly first to help others or strive to solve the challenges we face in these challenging times. I was moved, as so many were, by the national round of applause for the care workers who are every day stepping into danger, risking their own lives to help others. Words cannot describe how amazing these people are – thank you for all that you do and will continue to do.

There is another group that are stepping up, a group that don’t always fit the ‘mould’ and we should be grateful they don’t because these people change our world on a regular basis – I’m talking of course about entrepreneurs. If ever the world needed a band of superheroes its now – entrepreneurs assemble!

From my perspective I’ve always been drawn to entrepreneurs, having spent most of my career being an intrapreneur, I am now fully immersed in their word through the work I and the TechX team do at the Oil & Gas Technology Centre (OGTC). I’m continually astounded by their never-ending drive putting it all on the line to make a difference, to solve problems and change the status quo for the better of all. Their response to the COVID-19 situation has been a great example of this on a global scale. In cities across the world entrepreneurs and the ecosystems that support them are joining forces – assembling like ‘Avengers’ to fight for all that is good and great.

Professor Gary McEwan wrote an interesting blog recently on Fight or Flights: An entrepreneurial response to COVID-19. Great insight into the mindset of entrepreneurs – especially the more seasoned ones with hard won scars of battle in the business world. Whether it’s Virgin, Dyson or Tesla designing and building new ventilators to save lives, or socially conscious start-ups developing digital financial tools to provide loans to small businesses, or designing digital mental health solutions for people in isolation. They have stepped forward when it matters.

Aberdeen’s own BrewDog turned its beer plant in Ellon into a hand sanitiser factory in a matter of days with thousands on bottles being delivered to hospitals and charities. They even shared their recipe and lessons publicly so others could follow suit. One of the OGTC portfolio companies Air Controls Entech has repurposed their 3D printers to churn out face visor frames for local NHS staff. Even our own Pioneers from the TechX programme are stepping up with the likes of Intebloc sourcing and delivering food parcels to the elderly, and Sedwell offering up their expertise and capability to produce ventilators.

Looking to the horizon our future is unclear and no clear exit strategy yet out of our current lockdown. We not only have the long-term effects of COVID-19 to worry about but also an oil price crash, looming worldwide economic recession and the small issue of our climate emergency. We have tough times ahead but at TechX and the OGTC we are staying positive and focused on our objectives of accelerating the energy transition towards net zero. We must continue to provide the world class support to these entrepreneurs. Long after we come out of COVID-19 and the oil price recovers the existential crisis of climate change will still be there and the clock is ticking.
Team TechX has now finalised our third cohort of tech start-ups with eight selected from our open application round and the final four slots filled from our TechX Ventures programme with Deep Science Ventures. This year our focus has shifted considerably to cleantech and net zero with 50% of our cohort this year cleantech focused vs the 10% we had in cohort one.

We have had to move our start date out by a couple of months due to COVID-19, a decision which we know has knock on implications for this year’s cohort. Their place comes with £100,000 funding provided from the start of the programme and a two-month delay in accessing this has serious repercussions for their financial security and progress. So we have taken the decision to make the funding available from the original start date and the TechX team will be working closely with them, between now and then, to map out their delivery and maximise the time before the official programme starts in mid-August.

While not belittling our current challenges of low oil price and COVID-19 our existential crisis of climate change is ever present and also important for our survival. Therefore, while we continue to support our existing entrepreneurs, we also need to keep one eye firmly on the future that is rapidly and incessantly coming our way. So the OGTC and TechX remain committed in the support of our all our entrepreneurs, current and future, to ensure we can ensure survival today and tomorrow in pursuit of our technology ambitions and a net zero future for the benefit of all.

Please stay safe, look after yourselves and others around you.